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AFL-CIO Leaders Question U.S. Steel Decision

State union officials ask corporation to reconsider plans to scrap its $1.5B Mon Valley investment

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
May 09, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

The federation of the state’s largest labor unions has joined local elected officials in questioning a decision by U.S. Steel to cancel more than $1.5 billion in upgrades to its three Mon Valley facilities.

In a joint letter to U.S. Steel’s chief executive officer, leaders of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO called themselves “shocked, disappointed and bewildered” by the corporation’s April 30 announcement that it will not carry through with its plans to construct an “endless caster” at Edgar Thomson Plant as well as a co-generation energy facility at Clairton Plant.

“Over the years we have diligently and cooperatively worked with your government affairs team and the Pennsylvania Steel Alliance to encourage new manufacturing in the Commonwealth and beyond,” wrote Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO, and Frank Snyder, secretary-treasurer, in the letter made public May 6.

“We hope that you would reconsider this devasting decision and continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with a community who wants manufacturing, who needs manufacturing for another 100 years,” the AFL-CIO leaders wrote. “We can do it smarter, safer, and more efficient than any other country in the world. But we cannot do it alone. We need a willing partner.”

During a conference call with investors and stock market analysts, David Burritt, U.S. Steel president and chief executive officer, said the company had decided not to go forward with the planned Mon Valley investments, which were announced with great fanfare two years earlier.

The corporation also announced plans to close the three oldest coke-oven batteries at Clairton Plant.

In a letter signed by Burritt and released to the public by U.S. Steel, the corporation cited delays in the Allegheny County Health Department permitting process as well as economic conditions that have changed since the $1.5 billion plan was announced in 2019.

“The world is changing rapidly and we’re on the 10-yard line with 90 yards to go,” Burritt wrote in the statement. “In the wake of the 2020 pandemic and the increased urgency of the climate crisis, we are reviewing all projects and facilities with an even greater emphasis on their implications for our carbon footprint.”

In their response, Bloomingdale and Snyder said they “adamantly disagree” with Burritt’s football analogy.

“We believe we were crossing midfield with the goal line in sight,” they wrote. “If this is a two-minute warning, we cannot afford to fumble the ball. We have the players, the coach, the talent, and we are not looking for the team to move.”

Burritt and other U.S. Steel executives have said that U.S. Steel’s three Mon Valley Works facilities, which also include Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, are highly profitable.

“U.S. Steel remains committed to steelmaking in the Mon Valley for the next generation, with future investments to be developed in alignment with our 2050 carbon-neutral goal,” Burritt said, noting that the company’s Mon Valley operations contributed $4.6 billion to the regional economy in 2020.

Last week, during a visit to the Steamfitters Local 449 union hall in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey questioned the steel company’s decision-making process.

“Steel prices are at a record high, demand is strong, the economy is growing, infrastructure is all anybody is talking about, and we’ve got this great facility that has already made a big investment that is going to lead to some of the cleanest steel in the world,” Toomey said, according to a published report in the Tribune-Review. “What happened? That’s the question.”

Allegheny County officials have strongly pushed back on the implication that delays in the permitting process forced U.S. Steel’s hand. Health department officials have argued that to the extent delays have happened, they were requested by U.S. Steel — not the county.

Bloomingdale and Snyder called on U.S. Steel to “stay here and play to win.”

“Let's fight together to protect our workers and their workplaces, and the precious revenue that will be brought into our surrounding communities,” they wrote. “The legacy of steelmaking and manufacturing must remain in the Pittsburgh region. We stand ready to offer our assistance in keeping the project on track. Please let us know if you are interested.”

Originally published May 09, 2021.

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